A Woolworths in Egypt?
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
In Port Said, just around the corner from the ferry to Port Fouad and the city's police station, is the old Woolworths building. An odd colonial leftover from a time very much past. While the place is now a souvenir shop and has simply just left the old Woolworths sign, it's worth seeing as an example of classic Port Said-esque architecture and for being emblematic of a Port Said once written about so much by century-old travellers and authors.
Port Said has always been thought of as a place of commerce, imported goods, and unbeatable bargains. Being situated at the head of the Suez Canal, Port Said became a natural place for ships to unload goods and for tired travellers to disembark, and because of this, Port Said quickly became a city of traders from around the world. Foreign department stores and boutiques popped up selling exclusive and imported goods to wealthy Egyptians and Europeans.
Woolworths is a great example of this. Woolworths was an institution in Great Britain, which went broke and closed all its shops ten years ago, and brings up immense nostalgia in many of us.
For this reason, seeing Woolworths in Egypt, especially somewhere like Port Said, at first seems strange and unlikely. However, a Woolworths in Port Said makes sense considering the city's very colonial history. In 1907, 11,000 of the total 50,000 population were Europeans, according to Baedeker's guide to Egypt at the time, and this doesn't even take into account the tourists. In addition to the travellers who would stop off at Port Said on a long journey, it was also considered as the gateway to Egypt and the wider African continent. The city was considered to be a very cosmopolitan and international hub, perfectly summed up by the often-quoted statement by Rudyard Kipling, declaring that, "If you truly wish to find someone you have known and who travels, there are two points on the globe you have but to sit and wait, sooner or later your man will come there: the docks of London and Port Said."